I still have the t-shirt from my first swim triathlon. It was the 1997 Muncie Endurathon. Today it’s branded as Ironman 70.3 Muncie and is the oldest-running half-Ironman distance race in the country.
This season I’ve put much more focus into triathlon training. I added the coaching resources and knowledge base from Endurance Nation. On TrainingPeaks I upgraded to premium level, joined Strava and BestBikeSplit, and even have an account on Slowtwitch.com.
Muncie was a “B” race in terms of overall season importance. I still planned a decent taper, but probably wound up over-tapering. After a swim workout the Saturday before, I got stung by a bee or something while walking back to the parking lot at Caesar Creek. My foot swelled enormously and I had to take Sunday as a complete rest day. Monday through Thursday I did short-but-intense workouts to try and keep from getting too rested, but by race day my TSB (training stress balance) rose to 27.8.
Road trips are part of what makes triathlon racing so much fun. I drove there, so of course that meant I could pack everything. And I did just that – you can never over pack for a race. I got to the Prairie Creek Reservoir right around noon on Friday. It was a nice day, warm but not overly hot. We really lucked out on weather this year, race day conditions were nearly ideal. Packet pickup was very well organized. I like that moment when they snap on your wrist bracelet. There’s no going back after that, you’re in.
Muncie is a great race venue from a racer’s standpoint. You can park very close to transition and everything seems to be just a few steps away. I checked out the swim start, walked from the swim exit into transition, and then walked from my rack spot through the transition exit.
After the pre-race meeting I drove the outbound part of the bike course. That was helpful, as there were a couple of sharp turns and spots that required extra caution. The remainder of Friday was about relaxing, hydrating, and getting a good night’s sleep. (Anything over 6 hours would be considered good)
At the pre-race meeting they warned us about potential traffic, as there’s only one road into Prairie Creek. I arrived just before 5:00 a.m. and had no problems with traffic or parking. (Note to Ironman: valet parking would be cool service offering). My swim wave started at 7:00 so I had plenty of time – I never felt rushed. I ate breakfast while listening to SiriusXM Chill. The evening before I picked up a double espresso from Starbucks and kept it in the hotel fridge – it went perfectly with a bagel and peanut butter.
I waited until 6:15 to take my stuff into transition. It tends to be a high-anxiety area before the race so it’s best to get in and get out as quickly as possible. I saw a few friends, chatted a bit and took pictures, then got my swim stuff ready and headed to the starting area. The water was too warm to be wetsuit legal, so I wore my EN speed suit and BlueSeventy swim skin over it. (For clarity, wetsuits were allowed, but you had to start in the last wave and weren’t eligible for awards) There were eighteen waves in total, starting at 7:00 a.m. and then spaced out every few minutes until about 8:20 or so.
I’m happy that my age group was in the first swim wave – I don’t particularly like crowded water. When the cannon went off it was a very relaxed start. It was pretty easy to find a good lane on the left side of everyone else, and there wasn’t a lot of contact with other swimmers. At my two previous races this year it took a long time to get into a good swim rhythm. But at this race I felt good from the beginning. I didn’t swim particularly fast, but felt comfortable.
On the return leg you have to swim directly into the rising sun and it’s nearly impossible to sight. I just used the other swimmers as a guide and tried to keep focused on good swim form. I must have been swimming in a fairly straight line because I unintentionally head-butted two of the six orange buoys on the way in.
From the swim exit it’s a long uphill run to transition. One of my race goals was to have an above-average transition time. There was no need to sprint, but I needed to be precise and efficient. Here’s a picture of me counting out the tasks I needed to do in transition.
I’m such a dork. But hey, it helped. I got through T1 pretty quickly by my standards.
BIKE 56 MILES
The bike plan was straightforward: take it easy for the first 20 minutes; then hit the target power number without letting heart rate get too high; hydrate and fuel regularly; salt tablets if it gets hot. With the rough roads and tight turns in the first 6.5 miles, making the first objective was easy. I kept a close eye on HR and stayed in zone 2. The first loop on route 35 was great riding – a wide-open road and very little wind. I settled into a good pace and kept track of HR, power, and cadence.
When I got to the turn-around to start the second lap, I knew it would be crowded with all the other racers on their first lap. For the most part, the riders did a good job of staying to the right side of the road. But of course there were the left-side huggers who thought they clearly were the fastest ones out there. I yelled “on your left” a lot. Passing was tricky though because the draft marshals were watching closely and you never knew where they were. I probably went too fast and spiked the power when passing, but frankly it was kind of fun. One guy seemed quite peeved when I went by him – he yelled out “you’re already on your second lap?” – I looked back and smiled.
Towards the end of the bike leg I looked at the elapsed time on the Garmin and realized I had gone much quicker than expected. For a moment I envisioned having to walk the run course due to an overcooked bike leg. But I had to push that thought aside — let’s just see what happens when the run starts. My proudest moment on the bike came when I pulled off the flying dismount maneuver without falling down. I gave myself 10 bonus points for that move.
As it turns out, mine was the third bike back into transition. That was a cool feeling. I felt a sudden sense of urgency to get going on the run. Compared to all my previous races, my T2 setup for this race was by far the simplest. I only had to put on shoes and sunnies, spray on sunscreen, and grab my new “go bag”. The go bag was a simple concept – a gallon-size plastic baggie with the stuff that I usually deal with while standing in transition – I started running then took out my hat, Garmin watch, fanny pack, and the newly-developed RaceSaver run bag.
RUN 13.1 MILES
One of the philosophical tenets of triathlon racing, according to Endurance Nation, is that there is no such thing as a good bike followed by a poor run. The bike sets up the run – it’s that simple. If you don’t run well it’s because you didn’t bike well.
I was nervous about the run. That first half-mile is always easy – the cheering crowd tends to pull you faster than you should be going. After that though, my legs felt fine. The first mile was at an 8:00 minute pace and HR was in zone 2 – just where I wanted it to be. I ran according to plan for the first three miles: steady pace; HR in zone 2. My split through 3 miles was right at 24 minutes – right at ideal pace. Perhaps I did just fine on the bike after all.
The run aid stations were at each mile. They were rather chaotic, especially when my watch went off to signal the mile marks. I carried two Shot Blok packets and ate a single Blok before each aid station, then took about 4 cups of water, drinking two and dumping one onto each arm cooler. Then I asked for two cups of ice to put into the RaceSaver run bag. This was nice to have – I alternated between putting it on the back of my neck and under my hat.
After the turn around, I still felt pretty good. A lot of runners had passed me but I didn’t think any were in my age group. (Not everyone had their age on the right calf from body marking) I pushed the pace a little faster, or at least I thought I did. Turns out my pace was gradually slowing at a given heart rate, a sign of the accumulated work and fatigue. My HR went into zone 4 but it kept me at a steady at 8 min/mile pace through mile 10.
It’s easy to lose focus late into a long race. At the mile 10 aid station I somehow didn’t get water, and instead poured Red Bull on my arms. Then I drank a cup of Coke and forgot to get more ice. My running form went sideways and I started to slow down. Thankfully some guy passed me and that snapped me out of it. The last 3 miles were at 8:20 pace. (As it turns out nearly every racer slowed down on the second half of the run)
Finishing any race is a cool feeling, and finishing a big-name race like Ironman is really cool. I got my finisher’s medal and went to the car so I could call Mo. She watched my finish on the streaming video and told me I finished first in my AG. Woo hoo! She asked me about that silly jump I did at the finish line – here’s the pic:
Ironman bylaws stipulate that each competitor must have a unique finisher’s pose or gesture. I tried for the Flying Statue of David pose.
My overall time was 4:54:59. Winning the M55-59 age group qualified me for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Qualifying was an unexpected and pleasant surprise – kind of like being invited to tea with the Queen of England – you simply have to accept if you get invited.
Overall I wound up having a great race, and really enjoyed the day. My first triathlon “career” went from that first Muncie race in 1997 until 2002. My second triathlon career, which started in 2013, is even better than the first. I’m still having fun with great friends, so until something better comes along I’m sticking with this sport.